An eye on mortality

Gavin Findlay

Brendan Lee, Death is a matter of time

Brendan Lee, Death is a matter of time

Brendan Lee, Death is a matter of time

Brendan Lee’s video work is founded on a dissection of the technical devices used in mainstream cinema to produce emotional effects in the viewer, and his reinterpretation of those effects to subvert their original context and experiment with their use in isolation for other purposes.

Death is a matter of time is a short work building on the use of the eye in cinema. We all know that the eye is the most compelling of human features, window to the soul and all that. To me the eye means little without the face around it, so let’s see how Lee broadens the meaning of the image of an isolated eye with his digital wizardry and intellect.

Death is a matter of time is a companion piece to the installation “…a matter of time”, showing in May at Melbourne’s Gertrude Contemporary Arts Space. I haven’t been able to see the larger work, so must examine this smaller work in isolation. The video comprises 3 images: an LED countdown clock on 0:00:00:00; images of a flame and an explosion superimposed on the pupil of a man’s eye, from which tears drip. Then an ambiguous image I’m told is a sniper, is superimposed on a woman’s eye, it whites out then reappears as the eye widens before whiting out again. These superimposed images stutter in time with a faint heartbeat sound.

The implication is that the eyes express their owners’ realisation of their imminent death; that which kills them is reflected in their pupils. Removing this cinematic device from its context allows the possibility that these eyes are also those of the cinema audience. The “eye of the soul” cliché takes on new meaning as I consider the eye as portal to the language of symbols, accessing the subconscious, where the layers of correspondence a symbol brings become the building blocks of further meaning.

One image of the eye from modern cinema that leaps to mind is the recurring dilating pupil in Darren Aronofsky’s drug-filled Requiem for a Dream. I don’t think of that particular image as a device: it’s a coded message with one layer of meaning for the general public and a deeper, exhilarating but scarier one for those who’ve explored life’s darker pathways. Experiencing Death is a matter of time is instead more poignant in light of recent world events. We all think of ourselves as possibly immortal, until we aren’t.

My copy of the CCAS press release with its still of a man’s eye has been sitting beside my computer for a couple of days, spooking me. It’s too quiet. They say you never hear the one that gets you.

Death is a matter of time, Brendan Lee, Canberra Contemporary Arts Space, March 29-May 3

RealTime issue #55 June-July 2003 pg. 35

© Gavin Findlay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2003